Japan theatres organising special concerts with evacuation drills for better disaster response

TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Theatres around Japan are organising special concerts that include evacuation drills, in a move to give venue staff the opportunity to improve their preparedness for disasters.

After the drills, some of the operators also asked experts for advice to help them respond appropriately during emergencies, such as earthquakes.

One such theatre is the New National Theatre, Tokyo, in Shibuya Ward.

It held a free opera concert last month (September) at its opera house venue that included an evacuation drill.

During the performance, an announcement said that an earthquake in Tokyo Bay had taken place, causing a fire in the opera house's backstage area. The performance was immediately suspended.

Theatre employees, holding panels that read, "Stay calm, please", then instructed the audience to remain seated and wait for a while, before they were guided outside.

One of the participants, executive Kunihiko Goto, 72, said: "Being allowed to participate in this kind of drill makes me feel secure."

The drill was the second such event for the Tokyo theatre, which organised its first concert of this kind in 2014.

With assistance from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, the theatre videotaped how the audience was evacuated.

Checking the video footage later, the theatre found a few issues that its staff members need to work on, including the distribution of personnel as well as places where the flow of evacuees tended to be delayed.

The person in charge of the drill Kazuto Sato, 44, said the special concert had helped them figure out problems they had never expected as well as identify areas to improve on. " We want to have similar events not only in the opera house but also in our mid-size and small theatres in this building."

The first concert of this kind was organised by the Art Tower Mito in August 2011, an initiative based on lessons learnt from that year's massive earthquake in March. It has since expanded nationwide.

Art Tower Mito had to temporarily close after it was damaged in the quake. When it resumed operations, the operator thought it was necessary for visitors to learn how to evacuate smoothly in case of emergency.

Last month, similar concerts were organised in locations including Tachikawa, western Tokyo, and Oshu, Iwate Prefecture.

Waseda University professor Tomonori Sano, who specialises in architectural disaster prevention, said this type of event "can increase the facilities' and users' awareness of disasters and evacuation".